Igniting Dreams

From former refugee to rising footballer, a Guinean teen carries the Olympic flame for his country and Africa, story sponsored by GE

Rio de Janeiro— A broad smile on his face and the poise of a football player: so Guinean refugee Abdoulaye Kaba, 18, took part in the Olympic torch relay in Curitiba, Paraná, experiencing the most exhilarating 200 meters of his short life thus far. 

Kaba is the third refugee to carry the Rio 2016 Games torch: in Athens, it was held by Syrian Ibrahim Al-Hussein. Soon after arriving on Brazilian soil, in the nation’s capital city of Brasilia, it passed through the hands of Hanan Daqqah, 12, also Syrian. The pair had been chosen to carry the torch following a statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The symbolic gesture showed solidarity with the world’s refugees at a time when millions are fleeing war and persecution across the globe. 

The Journey

Abdoulaye Kaba fled Conakry, the capital of Guinea, when he was just 14 years old. His father had been accused of participating in an attempted coup against the government, their home was invaded and his family attacked. When his father was arrested, the family moved around the country, with no fixed address. A friend facilitated Kaba’s arrival in Brazil, after stopping briefly in Senegal and Spain. “I thought here in Brazil I wouldn't be alone”, said Abdoulaye. He knew Brazil principally through soccer; he has played the sport since he was a small child, harboring dreams of playing professionally when he was older. 

"When I arrived, alone and unable to speak Portuguese, I kept trying to not forget my goals: survive, communicate and become a professional soccer player", he said.

Since 2014 Kaba has lived in Niteroi, the city across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. After four years, his primary objectives have been accomplished: he survived, speaks fluent Portuguese and plays soccer at third division outfit São Gonçalo Futebol Clube.

Abdoulaye in the stadium of the São Gonçalo Futebol Clube. The team is based in Rio and Abdou has dreams of becoming a professional player.

The Flame of the Unforgettable

The invitation to carry the torch was one more unexpected surprise. "I am very happy and proud. It is an opportunity that everyone would like to have. It is fortunate, something great in my career. It will be written in my heart, it will be one of the best things in my life. I won’t forget lots of people screaming and taking pictures with me. It was all very fast, and it feels like I ran one kilometer", said Kaba.  

The Rio flame was lit on April 21 in Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece’s southern Peloponnese. The torch relay’s 95-day Brazilian segment began on May 3. It culminates in the Games’ opening ceremony on August 5 at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, where the flame will light the Olympic cauldron.

Header Photo Credit: UNHCR/Luiz Godinho

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